Thursday, February 22, 2007

Association of Space Explorers to launch War on Asteroids

Forty-three years after the U.S. began the War on Poverty, the poverty rate has only declined by 7%, with roughly the same number of Americans in 2004 as in 1964, approximately 34 million, living at or below the poverty level.

The War on Drugs? Yeah, that's working. We lock up a higher percentage of our population that any other country in the world, and yet drugs are still available on any street corner, imported from all over the world.

Like the War on Poverty and the War on Drugs, the War on Terrorism is open-ended... as long as we have money and soldiers to throw at it, it will continue. There will always be a would-be terrorist to fight, a city (or country) to destroy and then rebuild, or a Mooninite Lite-Brite cartoon character to panic over.

Those who make the Big Bucks from fighting these wars don't want to win them; they just want to fight them, forever and ever, amen.

Taking its cue from these previous, glorious wars, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has come up with plans for their own open-ended, never-ending war — a War on Asteroids!

Like some Deep Space Osama, the villain has been introduced. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Apophis, named after the Egyptian god of destruction. Shake, worry, and be sore afraid, comrades: Apophis is a weapon of mass destruction.

And like an episode of 24, the countdown has begun. Ladies and gentlemen, we have precisely until 5:23 a.m. on April 13, 2036 to win this war. (Oh, but there are exactly 38 more "rogue asteroids" to worry about between now and 2079, so even if we get that one that lives in the cave in Afghanistan, er, I mean, even if we succeed in diverting Apophis from its goal of annihilating the Earth, there are more where that came from. Always, always, another unending war to be funded, Winston Smith.)

Its Hoagland-esque face still red from embarrassment over the Space Oddity / Astro-Nut / Lust in Space saga of diapered astronaut Lisa Nowak's cross-country field trip to kill her love rival, and still looking for a reason to exist (how many more shuttle trips do we need?), NASA's spin doctors are working overtime pushing for funding to build "gravity tractors" (really big spaceships) to nudge Apophis and its co-conspiring asteroids from their paths of doom. NASA has recently upgraded equipment to allow them to find all these asteroids, and by Jupiter, now that they can find 'em, they gotta do something about them. Never mind that history shows that an asteroid of any significant size hits the earth on average only once every thousand years; there are now at least 39 to worry about in just the next 75 years!

History doesn't matter any more any way; we just make it up to suit our needs. For example, check the article referenced above from It quotes American astronaut Rusty Schweickart, now a member of the Association of Space Explorers, saying "Every country is at risk and we need a set of general principles to deal with this issue."

To give extra oomph! to Schweickart's words of warning, the writer makes him into a bigger hero than he really was. The article refers to Schweickart as "a former astronaut who orbited the moon in the 1969 Apollo 9 mission."

Not to belittle Schweickart's actual contributions to the space program, but, um... Apollo 9 never left Earth's orbit. It circled the Third Rock from the Sun for ten days, testing equipment that would eventually be used to land on the moon. Schweickart was grounded after the Apollo 9 flight after he suffered space sickness during the mission.

Schweickart tried in 2005 to get the U.S. Congress to fund his idea of placing a radio transmitter on Apophis to coax it from its path. Later this week, he takes his fears and plans to the UN Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space to drum up support for a global response to the Asteroid Threat.

Just imagine all the jobs and all the cool technology we can generate and sustain during this new, never-ending War on Asteroids! We'll get so good we'll kick a few comets' butts, too. Maybe we'll even nuke that wayward new dwarf planet Eris for screwing up our long-cherished sense of order in the number and names of the solar system's planets.

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